The rise of Candida auris embodies a serious and growing public health threat: drug-resistant germs.
In May, an elderly man was admitted to the Brooklyn branch of Mount Sinai Hospital for abdominal surgery. A blood test revealed that he was infected with a newly discovered germ as deadly as it was mysterious.
The germ, a fungus called Candida auris, preys on people with weakened immune systems, and it is quietly spreading across the globe. Over the past five years, it has hit a neonatal unit in Venezuela, swept through a hospital in Spain, forced a prestigious British medical centre to shut down its intensive care unit, and taken root in India, Pakistan and South Africa.
In Australia, the first known case of C. auris was recorded in 2015 when a Kenyan man presented himself to a hospital while visiting family in Perth. Last August, an elderly man in Victoria was placed in isolation after he was diagnosed at a Melbourne hospital.
The symptoms – fever, aches and fatigue – are seemingly ordinary, but when a person gets infected with C. auris, particularly someone already unhealthy, such commonplace symptoms can be fatal.
The man at Mount Sinai died after 90 days in the hospital, but C. auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.
C. auris is so tenacious, in part, because it is impervious to major antifungal medications, making it a new example of one of the world’s most intractable health threats: the rise of drug-resistant infections.
For decades, public health experts have warned that the overuse of antibiotics was reducing the effectiveness of drugs that have lengthened life spans by curing bacterial infections once commonly fatal. But lately, there has been an explosion of resistant fungi as well.
“It’s an enormous problem,” said Matthew Fisher, a professor of fungal epidemiology at Imperial College London. “We depend on being able to treat those patients with antifungals.”
Image Credit: New York Times